Mapping Your Genes

Mapping Your Genes
Boost your health
Companies like Navigenics and Decodeme have designed their testing products to motivate people to make these kinds of lifestyle changes. "We intentionally focus on conditions that are preventable or manageable if diagnosed early enough," says Michael Nierenberg, M.D., medical director of Navigenics. The company scans DNA for markers of 22 health conditions and then tells you how your risk of developing each condition stacks up against the average person. "We want to give people information to help improve their health," says Nierenberg.

Seek genetic counseling
Unlike some of its competitors, Navigenics includes genetic counseling (certified by the Amercian Board of Genetic Counselors) in its package of services. Once the results are ready, consumers can call a trained counselor to help them interpret the findings and formulate questions they can take to their doctors. Other companies provide extensive background information about risk and each disease on their websites, but don't provide personalized counseling. In that case, you may want to seek out a genetic counselor on your own.

Personalize your healthcare
Linda Avey, co-founder of 23andme, a genetic testing company in Mountain View, Calif., says genetic information can pave the way to a system of "personalized medicine." "Someday we'll be able to walk into a doctor's office and hand them our genetic information. Doctors could use this information for diagnosis and treatment. It can tell us which drugs are going to work for us and which we shouldn't take."

Protect yourself
As with all medical information, there's concern that genetic test results could get into the wrong hands. In May, President Bush signed into law the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which prohibits health insurers and employers from discriminating against people on the basis of genetic information. The provisions of the law that relate to health insurance will take effect by May 2009 and those covering employment will go into effect by November 2009.

Do your homework
Find out what services different genetic testing companies provide, what kind of professionals they have on staff, what they charge, whether they use a federally certified lab, and what their privacy policies are, advises Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Know if it's right for you
If you have a family history of a condition linked to a single gene, such as Huntington's disease or breast cancer, it's better to go through your doctor or a company like DNA Direct that tests for specific genetic mutations. If you're just curious, know that you may get results that confirm what you've long suspected, or you may get a surprise: Testing may reveal news you don't want to know and/or can't do much about.